A secret chocolate project in Paris + an upcoming tasting in Kennett Square

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Catherine and Nathalie, owners of Kosak in Paris, France

About this time last year, I started hinting at a “secret project” involving a gazillion chocolate samples and dozens of pages on Microsoft Word. Many of you inquired but I managed to keep it zipped.

Well, the time has come to spill the (cocoa) beans: knowing how classic chocolate descriptions bore me, Paris-based chocolate shop Kosak owners Nathalie and Catherine tasked me with writing 150+ chocolate descriptions and 30 maker profiles in a novel way. No cryptic tasting notes, but rather short, relatable stories about life, nods to a Swedish furniture catalog, and the occasional reference to poetry. All in French and English. You can already read the French versions now at www.kosakchocolat.com, as well as on their brand new distribution catalog.

The experience introduced me to the European bean-to-bar scene (and ALL of the chocolate on Kosak’s famed wall) and  stretched my writing skills. I’m forever grateful for the trust of Kosak and very proud to be part of this new chocolate journey.

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A peek at my recent wine & chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate.

On this side of the Atlantic, chocolate tastings are in full swing. On Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 10:00 AM, I’ll be at the Kennett Library for another chocolate tasting workshop. Attendance is FREE but registration will be required on the Kennett Library website. You’ll get to taste the impact of roasting the chocolate’s flavor through three bars from Fresco Chocolate Chocolate. Each will feature a different roast (light, medium, and dark) of the same bean and I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Who Makes the Best Chocolate? And Other Frequently Asked Questions on Chocolate

 

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Asnapshot of a few bars I bought last year for tastings. Can you recognize the makers?

Don’t you love how serving others sometimes leads to serving yourself? A couple of months ago, I gave a presentation on the topic of  “Blogging to Promote Expertise” to local business owners (you can watch a replay of the presentation here.) I wanted to give the audience the keys to launch and grow a blog, so I gave them concrete steps to brainstorm blog posts. One of them is to ask yourself what audience you want to serve and what problem you’d like to solve. So I followed my advice and asked myself these very questions. This is what I came up with.

Through this blog, I want to serve chocolate enthusiasts who may not know where to start their fine chocolate journey. It was me at age 36 and YOU, the lovely people I meet at tastings, whether at my local library or during pairing events. Thinking of my recent tastings, I thought of the most frequently asked questions from the audience. Wouldn’t that be nice to answer them on my blog post? Eureka! Here are my answers to your four most frequently asked questions.

1 – What’s your favorite chocolate?

It’s rare for me to buy the same dark chocolate twice, but I do make an exception for the Acalli Chocolate’s 81% Barataria Blend. This bar has all the qualities I look for in a dark chocolate. It has a smooth, velvety texture. It’s dark but not bitter, with just that bit of acidity and fruitiness to keep the taste buds excited. The use of Louisiana cane sugar lends the bar a pleasant fudginess. The chocolate is consistent from batch to batch and most dark chocolate-lovers I share it with truly enjoy it.

The beans used in these bars, from El Platanal and Norandino Tumbes in Peru, are also delicious on their  own – my friend Jacqueline can eat them by the handful! The combination of consistency and deliciousness is the reason you’ll often find both the chocolate and cacao beans at my tastings.

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2 – Who makes the best chocolate?

The greatest chefs are those who source the best ingredients and have the skills to treat them with respect. Similarly, the makers who make the best chocolate are those who select the finest beans AND have mastered their craft.

For help locating “the best,” check out the winners of the Academy of Chocolate Awards and International Chocolate Awards. You may fall hard for some of the bars in the Gold category (Qantu, I heart you too!). Or you may not. Ultimately, the best chocolate is the chocolate that YOU like and you may have to work your way through a few bars to find it.

If you don’t have an unlimited budget (who does?!), consider attending one of my upcoming tastings — you can sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future events. I usually bring several bars for everyone to try so you can quickly determine what they enjoy. My next tasting will take place at Dallas Chocolate Festival on Saturday, September 8, where I’ll be share some tips on throwing a chocolate party. I’ll also lead a wine and chocolate pairing event on Sunday, October 14 at Galer Estate in Kennett Square, PA. I hope you consider signing up!

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At a chocolate tasting I led in collaboration with Kosak in Paris. Photo by my friend Florence.

3 – Is this chocolate Fair Trade?

According to the their website, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) “aims to improve the livelihoods of marginalised producers and workers, especially in the South.” While the certification helps ensure the Fair Trade standards are met, it comes at a financial cost to the farmers and producers. The good news is there are other ways to provide a better livelihood to cacao farmers that doesn’t involve paid certifications. Marou Chocolate in Vietnam buys cacao beans directly from farmers. Here’s what they have to say about the purchase price.

“We pay above-market rates (at the moment, double cacao’s commodity price) to encourage and compensate the most committed and talented farmers in the country. We’re proud to call this fair trade, by any name.”

Source: Marou Chocolate’s Bean-to-Bar Manifesto

There’s indeed a growing trend in the fine or specialty chocolate industry to trade beans directly from farmers. Like Marou Chocolate, Taza Chocolate in Massachusetts and Askinosie Chocolate in Missouri, to name a few, choose to trade directly with their farmers. They describe their trade practices and cocoa bean purchase price on a yearly transparency report. Check out Taza Chocolate’s here, Askinosie Chocolate’s here, and Marou Chocolate’s there.

So, no, the chocolate you’re about to taste isn’t necessarily certified Fair Trade. You don’t always need a certification trade fairly.

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At one the Pralus shop in Paris. The pistachio bar is fantastic.

4 – Where can I get this bar?

If I ever share chocolate with you, the odds are it comes from one of these fine places:

  • Philter Coffee, my beloved coffee shop in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. This is where I usually buy Dick Taylor, Parliament, and Ritual Chocolate.
  • A specific maker’s online shop. That’s the case for Map Chocolate and Acalli, for instance.
  • The most likely answer, though, would be Bar & Cocoa, a chocolate online shop based in the US. The company carries a very large selection of carefully curated bars from all over the world, such as Pump Street Chocolate (you MUST try their Rye Crumb, Milk, and Sea Salt bar!) and Dormouse Chocolates (oh, the Peruvian Milk with Sea Salt.) In addition, the website offers a chocolate subscription service aka The Club that lets you discover four new bean-to-bar chocolates each month. Most of what I pull from my purse is usually from the latest subscription.
  • From Paris, France. I mean, what’s the point of being from France if I can’t show off every once in a while?! So if I ever share Ara Chocolat or Chocolat Encuentro with you, you can safely assume it came in a suitcase last spring. Head out to Bar and Cocoa’s blog for a list of three shops you must visit in Paris.
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Sometimes, I also find chocolate on my windshield. My friend Renee brought this bar from a trip to Vietnam. I was relieved it wasn’t a ticket.

Not Too Hot For Chocolate: Summer 2018 Updates

That’s right, it’s never too hot for chocolate. Last year, I shared some tips on storing chocolate in the summer and I remain a fan of having bars shipped to my PO Box. Added bonus: no more judgement from the mail (wo)man. “You got more chocolate, huh?” But if you prefer someone else to do the storing (🙋🏻‍♀️), I’ll be happy to share some bars at my upcoming talk next week. And if you’re planning a trip to Paris, scroll down for the name of latest (French) chocolate crush.

Upcoming Events

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On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, join me at The Market at Liberty Place in Kennett Square at 6 PM for a one-hour presentation on “Blogging to Promote Expertise.” I’ll be telling the story of my “37 Chocolates” challenge while you nibble on Czech (!) chocolate. Hors d’œuvres will be served, networking promises to be good, so I hope you consider attending. Registration is free but you must RSVP on the Kennett Office Hours website.

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Photo credit: Becca Mathias Photography

I’m currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the third printing of my food survival guide for French expats in the US (did you know pastry chef David Lebovitz called it an “essential read” for French people coming to the US?!) In exchange of your $75 pledge, you’ll get a seat at my next sit-down tasting at Galer Estate on Sunday, October 14, 2018.

The setting is magical — I mean, look at these photos ! – and non-francophiles will get three chocolate bars instead of my books. The campaign has met 103% of its goal and, if your budget allows, I hope you consider backing the project as I try to reach my stretch goal of $4,000. No contribution is too small and rewards start at the $5 level.

April in Paris + A New Chocolate Crush

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Attendees of my Parisian tasting in April 2018

Back in April, I collaborated with the lovely owners of Kosak — an ice cream and bean-to-bar shop in Montmartre — to hold my first chocolate tasting in Paris, France. Attendees were curious, savvy, and yet, very surprised by the diversity of flavors in bean-to-bar chocolate. Even in France, few people are aware that chocolate can taste like caramel or, say, raspberries.

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Antoine holding a (totally delicious) passionfruit nibs bar

The next day, I was fortunate to meet Antoine Maschi, co-founder of Chocolat Encuentro, one of the handful of French bean-to-bar makers. After running a chocolate factory in the Dominican Republic for five years, he and his partner Candice launched Encuentro in the outskirts of Paris last December.

Their range of bars may be narrow, but every single one is beautifully crafted. I’m especially impressed by the fierceness of their Öko Caribe. It boasts a chocolatey backbone with red fruit notes way stronger than I anticipated. It is, hands down, my favorite interpretation of the Öko Caribe beans. 

And get this: each wrapper’s illustrated with a fresh cacao pod whose color is chosen based on the bar’s tasting notes: red fror red fruit, yellow for pineapple and mango, etc. How clever is that? Mark my words, Chocolat Encuentro is one maker to watch.

Find out more about Chocolat Encuentro in this 2’54”-interview and discover the bars at the following retailers in Paris… Or at Galer Estate in October!

A Facebook Group for Chocolate Lovers

The one thing better than having a passion is sharing said passion with like-minded people. That’s why I’m so grateful my friend Lilla of Little Bee Chocolates started a Facebook group where chocolate-lovers like us can share our latest chocolate obsession. It’s called Taste Better Chocolate and I advise you not to go there hungry.

Now tell me, what chocolate discoveries have you made recently?

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Interview with Tamara LaValla, Chocolate-Maker and Co-founder, Batch (Rock Hill, South Carolina)

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Tamara LaValla. Photo credit: Batch

A few months ago, I became obsessed with this song by Maggie Rogers. Its unlikely combination of folk and dance music is so hypnotic, I played it on repeat for weeks — even my kids started begging for it. The young singer-songwriter wrote this song while attending New York University, two weeks before a serendipitous masterclass with Pharell Williams launched her career. I found the recording of the session after falling into a YouTube rabbit hole one night and I’ve watched it a dozen times since. I think you should, too.

Pharrell ended up loving the song. He explains why on the video.

“Wow. Wow. I have zero, zero, zero notes for that. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because you’re doing your own thing….And I felt like your whole story I can hear it in the music. I can hear your journey.”

He illustrates his point by talking about Reese’s cups. Yes, I am serious.

“Chocolate on its own is amazing!… But so is peanut butter!… But somehow someone said (claps hands) and one of the most amazing things happened. Two things made a third. And that’s what happens when you allow two beautiful worlds to collide….”

What Pharrel seeks in music, I seek in chocolate. Bold makers doing their own thing, exploring unchartered, sometimes unpopular territories. Confident artists colliding two worlds to make a delicious third. These are the people you read about here. Remember Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate? She combines poetry with chocolate and makes grown-ups weep. Paul John Kearins of Chocolatasm is another one. He brings his deep olfactory memory to his chocolates and boom! Rhubarb and sage bonbons. Today’s interviewee, Tamara LaValla, is another, brilliant maker doing her own, beautiful thing. Let me introduce her.

Tamara LaValla’s a visual artist and half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Batch, a bean-to-bar company based in South Carolina. The couple makes chocolate bars in teeny little batches (as in 160 bars per batch), released as ephemeral collections. After gushing at their Instagram for two years, talking to Tamara on Skype (she has the most beautiful voice), and trying a few bars myself, I’ve been intrigued by their recent release, Batch 12. One of the bars especially caught my eye.

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This is a 40% white + chocolate charcoal bar. For real. Photo credit: Batch.

I ordered three and inhaled one (yes, I know, slow down and whatnot but what can I say, Batch 12 got the best of me.) This bar is a pure illustration of bringing two things together to make a beautiful and delicious third that’s creamy and tastes like coconut. Good thing I have two more left.

It’s hard to categorize Tamara’s work. When she’s not making gorgeous, tasty chocolate, she creates art in her studio and co-hosts a retreat for women of the chocolate industry. Tamara’s doing her own thing, which makes her cool, unique, intriguing and thus, the perfect guest for an interview. I think Pharrell would approve.

Judging from your Instagram and blog, it’s obvious you live a very creative life; what place does chocolate currently occupy in your life?

That’s a fantastic question, something I try to get better at figuring out on an almost daily basis. I currently describe myself as an artist and OCD chocolate maker. In fact, it was my foray into chocolate that finally gave me the push to get back into my art studio full time.

I’ve been making art my whole life, have had the great fortune of being able to make a living as a creative and so certainly defined myself as an artist. But, it wasn’t until I started showing up to places and people would say, “Oh, you’re Tamara from Batch, the chocolate lady!” that I realized it was time to get serious about figuring out the roles that both art and chocolate had in my life.

As for the OCD…

I’m learning to embrace my natural tendencies which means I’ve had to say no to many opportunities (retail, subscription boxes, partnerships) in order to leave enough time to really care and obsess over each Batch as a true work of art.

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Photo credit: Batch

You see chocolate as art which, just like a painting, is rooted in a time and place. Your batches are often inspired by your travels (I still remember the trip to Portugal… and the batch inspired by it… my fave!). Can you walk us through the creative process behind each batch?

In the beginning (4 years ago) each batch was an experiment with different origins to get a better understanding of different flavor and texture profiles and to help us develop a palate for what was, and still can be, some very unusual flavors.

As we traveled more often, and for longer periods of time, we were inevitably inspired to integrate the foods, experiences and interactions we had along the way in our chocolate — and art — making.

Today, a new Batch is very much a reflection of where we are physically and creatively in the world. Often a direct response to a recent travel adventure but always influenced by a connection to people, places and experiences that move us.

These batches have become a record of our travel, sketchbooks for our work as artists and, I really believe, love letters to one another.

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Photo credit: Batch

This is from the site: “Batch 12 is inspired by a recent winter retreat to the high desert of New Mexico. Experimenting with new paintings by day and curled up by a raging fire at night, this artful release is a reflection of that sweet sojourn.”

Can you talk about the smoked nibs bar? What was the inspiration behind it?

Zan is an avid outdoorsman and I’ve always enjoyed his love for making and stoking a raging fire. This winter, in New Mexico, he was so excited to rise each morning and build a fire. He kept it steady all day long until we relaxed by it, together, each night, after a long day of painting and drawing for me. When we talked about what memory we wanted to recreate from the trip, the idea of the sweet smokey smell from the fires was at the top of the list which gave us the idea for smoking the nibs.

Sometimes we go into a trip with the intention of searching out an inclusion — for example, we knew we would drive around Mt. Etna in Sicily to see pistachios at their source — and sometimes we don’t know until after we’re home and have had a chance to look back at the trip and talk about what we want to highlight and share.

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Photo credit: Batch

Camino Verde is an origin you seem particularly fond of. What drew you especially to those beans?

After trying more than a dozen origins, Camino always rose to the top for me. I think partly because I wasn’t already into super dark chocolate and the flavors were really accessible — how I would’ve described chocolate (or, at least, the chocolate I preferred) before I even had the vocabulary to do so: a little nutty, a little fudgey, not sharp or tannic or overly fruity. It also worked really well with a lot of different types of inclusions we were using — coffee, salt, etc — and allowed us to improve our craft as we slowly explored other favorite cacao origins.

I was able to meet Vicente (Norero) during a trip to Ecuador last year and almost passed out when he tried one of our Camino bars and gave it high praise!

Batch Wrapper Close-Ups
Photo credit: Batch

Your batches are ephemeral, which makes me wonder: have you ever considered making a specific bar or batch part of a permanent collection?

I have thought about it, briefly, from time to time. It would certainly make more sense from a business perspective but…

If I’m being honest with myself, it’s the ephemeral nature of each release that makes it so exhilarating and precious for me. I hope that it might be the same for some of our fans too. There is something really interesting about using my skills as an artist — where I am generally concerned with creating something archival that will long outlast my own life — with making something artful that encapsulates a fleeting experience and will be consumed then gone forever.

I love the idea of crafting a chocolate bar that first celebrates, then becomes, a memory.

Also, ephemeral is one of my favorite words and I have this weird thing for when certain words are used at certain times in my life…

I was so excited to see a white chocolate as part of Batch 12. What prompted you to create it? Will there be more white chocolate in the future?

Believe it or not, the white chocolate bar was the first time I ever wanted to make something (food) because I had a vision of how I wanted it to look before having a “reason” to make it. Because I am an artist and “make things look good” for a living, I was reluctant to place an emphasis on what our molds or packaging or brand “looked” like from the start. I didn’t want to seduce people with an impressive design then disappoint them with a mediocre-tasting product. I think I was also trying to avoid people saying, “oh, another small batch craft chocolate maker with no food experience who’s going to rely on a fancy wrapper and photography to go where she doesn’t belong…”

What finally allowed me to make this bar was feeling that, after 4 years of making chocolate, we’d figured out how to deliver on quality and taste and that it was okay to make a gorgeous bar. So, Batch 12 is a reflection of our New Mexico trip and I was making these black and white paintings during the trip that inspired the design of the bar. It was really satisfying to finally unite my chocolate making and my art making. I didn’t need to abandon one for the other but, instead, could fully embrace Art is Food is Art.

Side note: I also thought we’d have snow in the high desert — which would’ve been represented by the white chocolate — plus the burnt coals from the fire, represented by the charcoal.

Spoiler alert: it never snowed.

I’m going to do a pistachio white chocolate next and see how that goes.

I didn’t get the paste from Italy this time but found a place in California and we are about to fly to California for a three-week drive up and down the coast from San Francisco to Seattle and back.

Women in Chocolate retreat
Photo credit: Batch

You’re currently organizing the second Mujeres Milagros retreat for the women of the chocolate industry. What’s your vision behind it? What were some of the high points of the first edition?

I’m at a place in my life where I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, looking up from my work, recharging. The idea of conferences and networking events and pop-ups seemed counter to that but when the idea of creating a “retreat” in the desert with Lauren [Heineck of WKND Chocolate and the Well Tempered podcast] and Sophia [Contreras Rea of Projet Chocolat] arose, I knew immediately it was right.

The high points from last year were, in no particular order: the women, the women, the women.

I have always avoided anything geared toward “women only” so, initially I was nervous as hell but it has, without a doubt, changed my perspective on that forever.

So of course you’re back for another!

With bells on!

Why were you avoiding women only stuff?

Ha, so many reasons. I grew up around soooo many women. I’m one of 4 girls and all my cousins were female so I loved women but felt that society taught us to be fiercely competitive with each other in less than healthy ways. Also, I felt like women were seen as “less than” and wanted desperately to prove that I could do anything a man could do and that I didn’t need a safe, man-free space to thrive.

Mujeres Milagros really showed me that things are changing. We don’t “need” to have a woman-only space to thrive, we “get” to create that space if we so desire. The space is not better than a co-ed space but it is most certainly different and it is those differences that support the heart of what Mujeres Milagros is about.

Tamara, it’s been real. Thank you for your time. I wish all of your endeavors a lot of success.

Find Batch chocolate online at batchcraft.com. For more on Tamara’s background and find out how she and her husband launched Batch, listen to the first episode of the Well Tempered podcast.

The 2018 Mujeres Milagros retreat will take place June 10-14, 2018 in Sante Fe, New Mexico. For more information and register, check out the Hacienda Doña Andrea website.

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4 Changes I’d Like to See in Chocolate Marketing

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Beautiful craft chocolate display at DeLaurenti Food & Wine in Seattle

Two winters ago, I signed up for a business training called B-School. Run by Marie Forleo, the program is designed to help you figure out what (online) business to start and, once you figure it out, how to market it. Of all the concepts I was exposed to, one really stood out to me: the ideal customer avatar. The idea is that when people buy something, they don’t buy a product but a feeling and, in order to trigger the right feeling, you need to know exactly who you ideal customer is. How old is (s)he? Where does (s)he live? What are their fears? How does your product fit in their life? When you know that, you can create a product and market it in a way that will get that person feel all the right feelings.

Some brands understand that very well. When you walk into some shops, you can’t help but feel welcome. From the lighting to the design of a bag, every detail has been thought out with their ideal customer in mind. Cared and understood is how I want to feel when I shop, especially when it comes to specialty food. But as of 2017, the marketing of fine chocolate mostly leaves me puzzled.

When I shop for a chocolate bar at a coffee shop, I’m not always clear who the information on a wrapper is written for. When a maker puts the name of a country along with a cocoa percentage on the front wrapper (say, 70% and Guatemala), the assumption is that the ideal customer is a chocolate connoisseur who can make sense of the origin of a country. If you check the back of the wrapper, you’ll likely read the steps of the chocolate-making process, information seemed geared toward a neophyte, since a connoisseur would already be familiar with those steps. So the first time I spent $8 bar at a gourmet shop, I felt totally confused. Why should I care that the cacao comes from a given country? Why should I know about the steps to make chocolate? I couldn’t find any answer on the wrapper, which left me frustrated — not good for sales.

After eating my way through well over 300 bars in the past 2+ years, I can now make sense of the information on a bar. However, I wish that more chocolate-makers made our lives as consumers a bit easier while buying chocolate and deciphering wrappers. Here are four suggestions to makers so they can leave us chocolate eaters with all the right feelings.

1 – Offer Small Bars

An average 2.5-3 oz-bar of craft chocolate costs $8 to $10. As a chocolate lover, it’s hard for me to resist the appeal of a new bar. But just like I dated my husband before marrying him, I like being able to buy a small, 1-oz bar, before committing into a larger size bar. After all, it’s easier to walk away from a date than a marriage, am I right? Thankfully, a few makers are already doing that: at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, I picked all of Marou six single origin bar for $18, a much more reasonable investment than the $60 I would have had to dish to try the varieties in their 3-oz format. And in case you wonder, I loved their Dak Lak the best.

Marou Small Bars
See that lovely, upside down stash of small bars? Brilliant.

2 – Don’t Get Technical

To differentiate themselves from confectioners, who use pre-made chocolate known as couverture into their creations, many chocolate-makers list the steps to make chocolate either on the front or the back of a wrapper. So the first words a new customer see when picking a bar are: “sort-roast-crack-winnow-grind-temper-conch-mold.” In 2015, I had no idea what the words “winnow” and “conch” meant and I know I’m not alone. Now, let me ask you, how do you think that made me feel? I’ll tell you: stupid. I know those words are part of a maker’s daily life, but not everyone lives and breathes chocolate or cares about how chocolate is made. Makers, please keep it simple and say your chocolate is “made from the bean” or use the term “bean-to-bar.” Even better, tell me what makes your chocolate stand out, because, ultimately, I want to eat chocolate so good it’ll make me swear. That’s what fills me with joy.

Woodblock Chocolate does a beautiful job describing chocolate online, I wish they brought that information on the wrappers, too.

3 – Describe Texture

When you eat a dish, many things impact your perception of its deliciousness: presentation, smell, taste (of course), texture, and even sound all play in your appreciation of the food. The same goes for chocolate: as important as its taste is, the thickness of each square, the speed at which it melts in the mouth, and texture all contribute to your enjoyment of the bar. Texture can make or break the perception of the bar. For instance, my friend Stephanie is still traumatized (no, I don’t exaggerate) by the grittiness of a bar I introduced her to (she grew up on super smooth chocolate like me) and, while some tasters favor a most rustic texture, few makers give us an indication on texture.

4 – More Generic Tasting Notes

Maker notes on a packaging are like a storefront, they need to give you just enough information to want to go inside. And when you go in, you want the store to measure up. As such, tasting notes that are too specific – think “lime zest” or “graham crackers” – can be deceiving. After all, the flavor we detect is a personal matter and, when we don’t taste what’s listed on a wrapper, we can be left with a feeling of inadequacy (“I am not good enough for this chocolate”.) So unless those notes are predominant (like the saffron notes of this Peru by Svenska Kakaobolaget), they actually contribute to creating a negative tasting experience for me. I’d like to see makers own their chocolate and describe the chocolate attributes that make it enjoyable: whether it’s a pleasant acidity, a nutty body, a creamy texture, or a slow melt, tell us what makes your chocolate special! Tell us about his most engaging trait! Help me buy your chocolate! What I personally look for when picking a bar is a general idea of the bar’s personality. “Fruity” or “nutty” suffice to give me an idea of the taste.

Ultimately, I’d like to see makers re-imagining how chocolate is packaged and marketed. I love reading the poems that Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate hides in her bars, the way Lauren Heineck of WKND Chocolate creates a setting for hers, or how Will Marx of Wm. Chocolate redesigned his packaging (after hearing me share my views on Instagram, no less!) so the flavor profile stands out on the front packaging.

Wm Chocolate
It takes exactly one second to find out the flavor profile of this bar. Thank you, Will, for making our decision-process easier.

Now, tell me, what are some changes you’d like to see in the way fine chocolate is described and marketed in your country?

February 2018 Chocolate Tastings

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At the Kennet Library last November. Photo credit: Myriem N.

February is the best month for us chocolate-lovers. Seriously, between Valentine’s Day and the cold weather, we have every excuse to order chocolate online, sip a cup of hot cocoa under a blanket, and gather around a chocolate tasting. And considering I have four chocolate events scheduled next month, February promises to be a ton of fun for Chester County chocolate-lovers.

In addition to hosting my first wine and chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate Winery, I’ll be back to the Kennett Library for a free workshop, volunteer at the Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival, and host the chocolate tasting of my dreams at Grace Winery. Phew! There’s a tasting for every budget and I look forward to meeting you at one of these events.

 

Saturday, February 10, 2018, 2-3 PM – FREE Chocolate Tasting Workshop at the Kennett Library

Kennett February Tasting

The response on my last workshop in November was so positive (read: it was totally booked) that I’m returning to the Kennett Library for the fourth time. During the FREE, one-hour workshop, you’ll learn how chocolate is made, where it’s coming from, and hold a FRESH (that will be a first) cacao pod. Oh and yes, there will be chocolate samples for you to taste. Because there are currently no plans for a spring workshop, you should save you spot now.

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

February 11, 2018, 12-1 PM – 2018 Kennett Chocolate Festival

Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival

A chocolate festival to support a good cause? Count me in. The Kennett Chocolate Festival is a fundraiser for the United Way of Southern Chester County and, after two years as a judge, I’m thrilled to welcome connoisseur ticket holders at a chocolate education station. Between noon and 1 PM, chocolate lovers will get to see, smell, and taste roasted cacao beans as well as… wait for it… FRESH cacao pods! I’ll have them shipped just for the event and I’ll be slicing them for the guests. Oh and did I mention I’ll be raffling two chocolate bars?

Connoisseurs tickets are available for $25 or $45 for two and include free parking. You can purchase them online on United Way’s website.

Kennett Chocolate Festival @ Kennett High School
100 E South Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Friday, February 16, 2018, 6-8 PM – Grace Winery, Glen Mills

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The beautiful Inn at Grace Winery in Glen Mills, PA

Grace Winery offers the most idyllic setting for a gathering  – Exhibit A: the venue’s completely booked for the 2018 wedding season – and I am honored to guide a very special chocolate tasting for the winery’s guests.

I spent all of December to prepare for the event: I got new bowls for cacao beansProjet Chocolat’s elegant placemats to guide the tasting, and glassine envelopes so the guests can take chocolate home. Heck, I even bought new shoes! This will be an elegant, intimate tasting – the one I wish existed when I started my chocolate journey.

During this two-hour workshop, you’ll learn how chocolate is made and where it’s coming from, you’ll peel cacao beans and sample bars from my absolute favorite chocolate-makers. You’ll leave the event with a deeper appreciation of this food and a list of my favorite chocolate purveyors in the Philadelphia area so you can continue your chocolate journey.

Tickets are $50 and include your first glass of wine. Tickets are available through EventBrite. This one’s going to be special. I really hope to see you there.

Grace Winery
50 Sweetwater Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342

Sunday, February 18, 2018, 2-4 PM – Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Galer Estate Winery, Kennett Square

Please join award-winning winemaker Virginia Mitchell and myself for a chocolate and wine pairing at Galer Estate Winery. During this two-hour tasting, you’ll sample four wine and chocolate pairings and learn the tricks to create your own successful combinations. All featured wines – one a double Gold award-winning – are made by Galer Estate Winery and will be available for purchase. The handpicked selection of chocolate includes four award-winning bars from American chocolate-makers. The tasting will end with my favorite confection from Eclat Chocolate.

Tickets are $60 each and include four pairings plus one chocolate confection. The event will likely sell out so grab your seat now!

Galer Estate Winery
700 Folly Hill Rd
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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Interview with Paul John Kearins, Chocolatier & Founder, Chocolatasm (Blue Ridge, Georgia)

Ganache Bitch
Chocolatier Paul John Kearins. The s-shirt is for sale on the Chocolatasm website. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

Disclosure: Chocolatasm sent me a box of four chocolate bonbons. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I wasn’t influenced by the company.

Serge is one of the rare friends I see everytime I am in Paris. He and I met in Latin class in 10th grade, where he’d hide behind my desk and whisper jokes about our teacher’s hairdo. While he wasn’t exactly popular, his tastes were decidedly edgy. When our classmates danced to pop songs, Serge would listen to Björk on repeat. While the 1990’s made us live in denim, he’d wear an orange jacket to school. In between classes, he once wrote a story about a classmate stuck in another friend’s digestive system. It was so inappropriate. It was hilarious. Back then, I was shy and book smart and my friends were Goodie Two-Shoes, just like me. Serge was cooler than I’d ever been and his friendship meant that, maybe, there was a bit of coolness in me.

Chocolatier Paul John Kearins is a bit like Serge, but with a British accent and a US address. He sells t-shirts I can’t wear around my kids, peppers his Facebook updates with swear words, and slips the occasional burp on his Instagram stories. I love all of it. But what makes him edgy are his chocolate confections. His flavor combinations are unlike anything I tried before: when he sent me a box of four bonbons last month, I sampled them one at a time, after the kids were in bed, so I could swear at each bite. There were a Tart Cherry, Olive Oil, Allspice bonbon that tasted like summer, an intriguing Buttermilk Ganache, an irreverent Greek Yogurt Caramel one, and a Hazelnut Cinnamon bonbon I am now obsessed with. Once the box was empty, I had to know more. What’s Paul John’s secret to creating flavor combinations that are creative but not gimmicky, playful yet restrained? I’ll let you read on to find out. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching Paul John’s latest Instagram story. It makes me feel cool. 

Truffles
Lady Grey, Peach Sweet Tea Ganache, Greek Yogurt Caramel, Coffee Lemon, and Thyme Tangerine are some of the represented bonbons flavors. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

Please tell us what brought a Dutch man with a British accent to Georgia? 

In December 2006 I left Holland and my job of 7 years as a chocolatier at Puccini Bomboni in Amsterdam. My partner and I had plans to open an eco-lodge on the Canary Islands. That plan didn’t work out quite as anticipated. We left the Canary Islands and headed to the Dutch Caribbean, found employment as caretakers of a luxury villa on the French side of the island. After some time we parted and I remained as private chef/concierge.

Around that time I met Shawn, my husband, in an esoteric Facebook group and we became friends. Shawn lived in Georgia, where he had a high end caretakers and property management company. I moved to the neighboring island of Saba, a 5sq mile mountain and became concierge and chef for a private villa there. Shawn said he wanted to visit, came for two weeks then left. A month later he returned and didn’t leave. He said “I’m not leaving this island without you.” To cut a long story short, after 8 months we both left and returned to his home in the mountains of North Georgia. That’s when Chocolatasm was born in 2013.

When I left Holland I was kind of burned out with regard to chocolate making and thought I was down with it. When I arrived in the USA I was ready to start again. With my own approach instead of that of a boss.

Heart
Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

What was your vision when your started Chocolatasm and how did you come up with the name of your company?

I’ve noticed that so often when people hear that you are a chocolatier, they immediately ask if you make something that already exists. I always answer “someone already makes that. So why would I?”

I had a food group on Facebook called foodism and I wanted the expand that to my business and call it Chocolatism. Unfortunately that name was already taken so I decided on Chocolatasm… I own the rights to that name now. It’s supposed to be a mix of chocolate and and orgasm.

Do you have a storefront? 

I do not. My store is online. However as you’ve seen I do pop up now and then at various locations. I wholesale at a few locations across the US. [My growth] is completely random and organic. I have a loyal customer base locally and across the USA.

Your flavor combinations are so inventive. The hazelnut cinnamon especially stood out to me. What inspires you?

I have an insane olfactory memory (smell memory) and remember situations, feelings and emotions through scent. I can see a picture of a food and imagine the aroma in detail. So I create flavor combinations by memory.

One such memory is if my mother’s friend Betty. I was 10 years old and would go for tea at her house, she had a fabulous garden full of herbs and showed me that I only had to rub the leaves with my fingers and smell them. She led me to the sage and let me smell. Afterward we went inside for tea and she’d made rhubarb pie. I ate the pie with my hand and could smell the sage on my fingers and I ate. When I saw rhubarb here in the store 35 years later, that memory flooded back and that’s when I came up with my rhubarb sage bonbon.

Wine & Chocolate
Wine and bonbons pairing.  Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

The hazelnut cinnamon came to be when I made the praline to mix into the ganache for the first time. As I was grinding the praline I started to think about what else I could add that would lead it away from the “just like Nutella!” thing. Spice. I wanted to make it adult. Hazelnut and cinnamon complement each other and are rarely combined. I find it very “German.”

You use Map Chocolate as couverture* for your bonbons: what drew you to Mackenzie Rivers’ work? What are you looking for in chocolate?

I look for big flavor. So often the chocolate is nothing more than a vehicle for other flavors. I like the chocolate to be the star of the show, followed by complimentary accenting flavors. The couvertures should be ethical and consistent in texture. However, in the world of single origin, you are at the mercy of nature. Flavors vary per season and harvest and that what I find to be so exciting. Nature decides.

I followed Map [Chocolate] on Instagram and we became friends. One day we decided to do a collaboration of bonbons. Bridge the gap between bean-to-bar maker and chocolatier. I created a 9-piece bonbon assortment mapping the journey from Georgia to Oregon. Each bonbon represented the flavors associated with 9 states from East to West.

* Couverture chocolate has a high cocoa butter content which makes it suitable for confections. While a chocolate-maker like Map makes chocolate from actual cocoa beans, a chocolatier like Chocolatasm uses chocolate as an ingredient in bonbons and other chocolate products. 

Bars 3-pack
A selection of Chocolatasm bars. Photo credit: Chocolatasm.

I like my flavors to be apparent without being overpowering. I want the chocolate to retain its identity flavor wise and visually which is why I don’t airbrush with bright colors. We live in a “Jolly Rancher society” where flavor is amped up to an extreme. Eat something apple flavored and tour often tasting 100 apples in on bite. I want flavor to be real. I love looking at painted bonbons yet see only that…. paint.

Also I hate that everything is called a truffle. 😆

You’ve already had a long career in chocolate. Any milestones you’d like to share?

I created a truffle (yes, a truffle) for her majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She came to Saba and I was asked to present something. I harvested cacao from the rainforest on the island and made truffles from it.

Also I created a confection for the finale of the Montreal baroque festival in 2009. A celebration of the works of Purcell who apparently died of an overdose of chocolate. It was served to 700 people at the cathedral of Bon Secours.

You have obviously found your tribe, people that love your products (and your irreverence, like me!), so what’s next for Chocolatasm? 

The plan for 2018 is to relocate to Cape Cod and begin working together with an existing chocolate shop/ cafe/ bakery in Provincetown. I will be helping streamline their operations whilst expanding on Chocolatasm at the same. How that will look isn’t completely clear just yet. Time will tell. Chocolatasm will continue as an online store and wholesale will continue also. My products will be available in Provincetown.

You can order Chocolatasm creations online at Chocolatasm.com and follow Paul John Kearins on Instagram @chocolatasm.
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